Why did Mitch McConnell freeze during a press conference? An emergency room physician weighs in on his health scare

Rare are the moments when a politician takes to a podium in front of an assembly of reporters and can’t get the words out. Even the most unseasoned of them can ad lib to save face during the all-too-common—given the advanced age of many of the nation’s leaders—mental lapse.

But rarer are the moments when a politician freezes in front of the nation while experiencing an acute medical episode. That’s how Michael Bessette, an assistant clinical professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences and medical director of the Physician Assistant Program, characterizes the 20 or so seconds Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell stood “frozen” during a weekly press conference on Wednesday. 

McConnell was whisked off to his office after it was clear he was not all right. When asked about the moment later, McConnell, who is 81, joked that he had been “sandbagged,” referring to the incident in which President Joe Biden tripped over a sandbag at the U.S. Air Force Academy last month. 

But medical professionals say McConnell’s moment of disorientation is no laughing matter. Asked what he thinks happened to McConnell, Bessette, a retired emergency physician, says he believes the lawmaker experienced an “acute” medical event that could have been classified, clinically speaking, as an emergency. 

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